Chapter 27: Saoirse the Recluse

Day 367, Aodhain, Isle of Searbh (822 AD)

 

A knock awoke Riagan from a nap. He stumbled to the door disoriented. He brushed his sienna hair out of his eyes. He opened the door to see Brighid with a tray. She was awake, impatient and staring him down with measured kindness.

“What is it, Brighid?” Riagan asked and sighed. What time was it?

“I wanted to know if she is doing any better?” Brighid asked. “And I brought you some lunch.”

“Ah, so it’s afternoon.” Riagan mused. He looked at the doorway, thinking. He was exhausted. “She’s about the same. Just keeping her calm.”

“I see,” said Brighid, concerned. “Could I come in?”

“I think she wants to be alone.” Riagan stopped her.

Brighid scowled. “But you’re with her, she’s not really alone. Riagan, let me check on my friend. I know her better than she knows herself, I’ll know how to help her.” She pleaded.

“I’ve got it. Just keep everything else running.” Riagan muttered.

“You have no idea what you are doing.” Brighid said, with disappointment.

“Yes, I do. Do you think this is the first time this has happened? No! And where were you those times?” Riagan raised his voice, not in the mood to be critiqued.

“I was serving Galway in Conn’s army because Saoirse said I wasn’t high class enough to come around anymore. And that your family would disapprove of me so I needed to stay where I belonged. Don’t you dare accuse me of abandoning her. I risked everything for my family to leave with you when she came to my cottage crying. I was there for both of you. My loyalty is not in question. Your competency is!” Brighid argued back.

“I am your Chieftain, you will respect me!” Riagan ordered.

“No, you’re not. You never got the crown, never fully. Conn is still my Chieftain, I serve your Da and what he would want.” Brighid answered.

“My Da is dead. You are a fool.” Riagan said.

“No I’m not, you are the fool. You are delusional.” Brighid dropped the tray at his feet, spilling the food. “Make your own dinner. And take care of your own kids. Fiachra is worried sick about her.” Brighid walked away in a huff, her long red braid swung around hitting her in the back with a thunk as she rounded the hallway to the stairs.

Riagan slumped against the doorway and his jaw quivered. He wanted to cry so badly, the tears were welling up behind his eyes from the raw wounds that lay open at Brighid’s feet. Conn was dead, his Da had died and it had all gone to pieces. Riagan could not put it back together no matter how hard he tried.  His life smashed to bits any time he relaxed since the day he found his Da dead.

Would it ever go back to making sense again?

“Riagan?” Saoirse asked. “Riagan, are you okay?” Saoirse asked from the bed. Riagan looked at her, she was shaking. Her teeth were chattering. He shoved the emotion back in his brain and looked at her. Even with the dark circles swimming under eyes, she was still beautiful. A little flush spread across her face, her color was coming back from the days of endless sleep.

“I’m fine, Saoirse. I’m fine.” Riagan said coming over to rub her back softly.

“Then why were you shouting out the door?” Saoirse asked, searching his face for clues. She felt so foggy still, like her life was not quite happening. She was waiting to wake up.

“Brighid is cross with me, but it will all work out.” Riagan said to Saoirse. “Do you want to go outside today?”

“Maybe.” Saoirse looked at the window, forlorn. She could see Galway from the window.

“We could walk by the sea and listen to the waves crash.” Riagan offered.

Saoirse looked at the window and said nothing for a while. “I don’t know if I like the sea anymore. Every wave could carry her here.”

“Who, love?” Riagan asked.

“Ciannait.” Saoirse said.

“Who did you say?” Riagan asked.

“Ciannait. She could come and kill us if we go out there. She and Tearlag are so angry with us, Riagan, and they can find us here if we go out.” Saoirse said.

“No they can’t, Saoirse, and you need fresh air.” Riagan said. “Walk in the sun.”

“I can’t shake it, Riagan. They know what we did, they’re both going to find us and destroy us. We can’t outrun them.” Saoirse said.

“That’s the guilt talking, Saoirse. Ciannait can’t hurt you, she’s not here anymore. Tearlag is over there, and she is not coming. She doesn’t care about us anymore, you are free from her. You have to let your guilt go.  It’s killing you, Saoirse.” Riagan said. “Please will you go outside with me today?”

Saoirse looked at him and looked back at the window. She was stuck with no way through. “I don’t want to.”

“Let’s go to the woods. The woods will hide us,” Riagan said, kissing the top of her head. Her black hair was twisted into a messy bun and it was desperately trying to escape down her shoulders.

“I don’t know.” Saoirse said. Her eyes filled with an unnatural worry.

“I will be with you the whole time, do you trust me?” Riagan asked.

“I don’t know.” Saoirse said again. Riagan sighed and sat down on the bed.

“Then I really don’t know how to help you. You have to try to trust people again.” Riagan said. “I know your world was constantly shifting back in Galway, but I’m not leaving you. I can’t be sent away from you like before. No one is my master anymore, expect you. I am yours and only yours now. Give me a chance to put it right, I have to, Saoirse. I can’t stand how mixed up my life is anymore. I need it to be righted.”

Saoirse sighed and went to the window. “I just don’t know.”

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Chapter 26: Aoibheann

Day 366, Aodhain, Isle of Searbh (822 AD)

“Planting a garden during harvest is so bizarre. I mean, normally we’re sorting produce and gathering grains. Preserving, salting, etc. This is weird. It’s not even Imbolc! This is a mess. Your Mum has no idea what she’s doing!” Aoibheann said. She was hunkered over baskets of seeds in a small planting shed Carrick and Fiachra had built the week before. 

Aoibheann and Biorn were sorting the seeds from the pantry that had been saved and collected from produce for months. Saoirse wanted a garden to be started as soon as possible. The days were dark, the nights long, and the possibility of a garden seemed so far away. Yet, after the sorted seeds were filed away, they were told to till up a plot of the island to be prepped to go. It had been an awful three weeks of dragging large branches through the soil, pulling out rocks and building a fence. She hated how Saoirse and her mother believed she was capable of doing this. Being the stronger of the two sisters certainly had its limitations. Brighid always put more responsibility on her, instead of Kinvara. Kinvara was allowed to avoid so much, just because their Mum didn’t have the patience to deal with her. Aoibheann felt like the older one most days, even though she was two years younger than Kinvara.

Aoibheann continued to complain, “I am dreading the next phase. Hoeing? Digging? It sounds awful.”

“I never enjoyed any part of gardening. Sorting seeds is pointless, throw them in the ground like the birds do, and see what sprouts. Better yet, let the birds do it for you, this is a shit job.” Biorn said as he threw seeds between baskets without any attempt to make it. Seeds scattered around his feet. His dark curly hair was bleached to a reddish copper color on top. It gave him a magical look that made Aoibheann swoon for him more than Fiachra recently. She was hungry for both of their attention and she wanted all she could get from them. She needed something to make her happy, and the love of an heir to a Kingdom was a challenge to win. 

“But you have to grow food to eat.” Aoibheann said, shoving the sleeves of her dress up her arms. She had never been a dress girl before.  They got in the way of doing things. Archery, hurling, tree climbing were more her activities. But recently they had found a bunch of the Chieftainness’s old dresses in a wardrobe in her room that Aoibheann snatched up. They were beaded and fanciful, exactly what she needed to attract Biorn and Fiachra. She was determined to outshine Kinvara, the more beautiful of the two sisters. Aoibheann had taken great strides to downplay anything good about Kinvara, for fear she would fade into the background behind her older sister. She was sure Kinvara would understand. It’s not like Kinvara was interested in any of them anyway. Kinvara was still love drunk for her Eamon, back in Galway. 

“Well, I’ll trade for food.” Biorn said. “I don’t need to farm. I will buy everything I need.”

“How can you trade in the middle of nowhere?” Aoibheann asked, smiling for she knew she had his logic in a checkmate. 

“Well,” Biorn stalled and thought about something clever. “I’ll ask Kinvara to teach me how to forage. There’s your answer. Maybe she’ll talk to me or scurry in the right direction. She’s like a scared little squirrel.” Biorn said, making fun of Kinvara once again. He loved that Aoibheann was fine with him making fun of her weird sister, she even relished the jabs at Kinvara with a vicious smile. 

“She is such a weirdo. She freaked out at the hunt like a blubbering baby! Ugh, I hate having to pull her around through life because she is too sensitive to take care of herself. I need a bridle and a lead like a horse.” Aoibheann laughed. Biorn smiled and held her gaze.

“Do you wish you knew who your parents really were? Instead of these idiots who dragged you here?”Aoibheann interjected randomly. Biorn broke eye contact and looked down at the seeds in his hand.

“Yeah, of course I do. But I don’t get the choice to decide that.” Biorn said dismissively. Aoibheann looked down and sorted seed in her hand and got a new handful.

“You should get that choice.” Aoibheann said.

“I think so too.” Biorn said.

“Can’t you talk to Saoirse about it?” Aoibheann asked.

“She is the reason I sit here boxed out. Vidar could go find his Mum anytime he wants but I am not allowed. She won’t tell me why either.” Biorn said. “I’m not even her child, yet her opinion matters more to Riagan than my own!”

“It’s nonsense.” Aoibheann said.

“Yes it is. Can we talk about something else?” Biorn asked, annoyed.

“Why?” Aoibheann asked.

“I don’t want to talk about it. I can’t change it. Why waste the breath? Life is the way it is. My Fiachra and Vidar are favored. I’m not sticking around catching what is left over.” Biorn said. “You and I are going to find a better place and bigger path.”

“You and I?” Aoibheann’s eyes lit up. She tucked her red hair behind her ear, a nervous twitch she could not explain. She felt warm, so warm, and light.

“Yeah, you’re my best friend. I don’t want to leave you behind.” Biorn smiled. “Just because I can’t live in the same place as my family. I want you to be there too. You have to be there with me.”

Aoibheann smiled and went back to work. Seeds passed through her hand and she gave them half a thought. No thought really. The possibility of “You and I” lingered in her mind. “You and I” was the most fantastical list of people she had ever encountered! It was magical! She would probe no more at the dark parts of Biorn’s mind. She was part of a future “You and I”! What could be more perfect?

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Night 366, Isle of Searbh

Aoibheann & Kinvara’s Bedroom

 

Aoibheann brushed some hair behind her ear and sat up in her bed. Her strawberry blonde hair was sleek and shiny and cascaded down from her head and down her back. It was so silky that it slipped from behind her ear and into her face. Her hair was the complete opposite of Kinvara’s unruly brown hair that curled and waved out from her head and down past her shoulders. They could not be more different. She felt bright, inside and out. Meanwhile, Kinvara was a brooding cloud of dull.

“Kinvara, Biorn said ‘us.’ Us, like we, like we’re together. He wants us to be together. In the future, he wants us to run away from this place together! Isn’t that fantastic?!” Aoibheann was beaming as she spoke. She had just retold the whole scene. The seeds, the room, Biorn’s words. She was bubbling.

She sat across from Kinvara in their bedroom. They each sat on their beds, Aoibheann with her knees bent and her back against the wall. She was too excited to be relaxed. Too excited to sleep. Kinvara was sprawled out on her bed, laying on her stomach, a little turned to the side. Her arms rested beneath her pillow and her legs were stretched out. One to the bottom of the bed, one bent at a ninety degree angle. She looked like she was frozen mid-climb. Her head was turned to face her sister. She had a relaxed pose on her face, either from boredom or drowsiness, but Aoibheann could not tell. She could never tell. That was the problem.

“Are you listening to me?” Aoibheann asked with irritation. She pulled her knees closer to her body with her arms, hugging them. She rested her head against the wall and looked up at the rafters, waiting for her sister to decide if she would reply. She counted the planks of wood to pass the time. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…10 …13…

“What part of it are you excited about?” Kinvara asked. Her voice was measured and bored. Sleepy. Struggling to stay focused on her sister. Kinvara uttered a yawn.

“What do you mean? I’m excited that he said ‘us’ Kinvara! Me and Biorn, together. He sees a future, together with me!” Aoibheann said, rubbing her hands on her legs. It was chilly in their room. She grabbed a wool blanket and draped it over top of her legs.

“Why does that excite you? You want to spend more of your life with Biorn? Or you want a guy to want you in his life?” Kinvara asked, pointedly. She looked Aoibheann in the eye. Aoibheann was caught off guard and stuttered in her thoughts.

“Well, yes…um I want someone to want me. I guess I want both. Wait, what is wrong with me wanting to spend more of my time with Biorn?” Aoibheann asked, her eyes were fixed on Kinvara in vexed irritation.

“Biorn is so one-dimensional. What do you like about him? He doesn’t appear to be as smart as his brothers. He thinks he is funny, but he makes fun of people and calls it a joke. Does he even like you for you, or are you his only option?” Kinvara asked.

“Well, I’m at least a better option than you. Why would anyone want to be with you? You’re stuck up and rude. You are a misfit that sulks all the time. Why can’t you ever be normal and talk about Biorn with me?” Aoibheann raged. “That’s all I want from you and you never give me that!”

Kinvara rolled over to face the wall. Aoibheann’s words stung. Aoibheann hated her, and she didn’t understand why. She was just looking out for Aoibheann, so why did her sister not appreciate it? Why was she so aggressive?

“Vidar doesn’t think I’m a misfit. I think that I care about his opinion more than your’s. You love a bully so much, that you have become one. Please marry Biorn and run away with him.”

“Kinvara,” Aoibheann backtracked.  She could tell she had gone too far. “I didn’t mean that. I’m sorry.”

Kinvara continued to look at the wall in silence. A small tear dropped down her cheek.

“Come on, Kinvara, don’t be so sensitive. I was joking. You will find someone. Someone hopefully as weird as you.” Aoibheann plead.

Kinvara got up and walked away from Aoibheann, “You are the same as Biorn.” She walked out of the room and went to the roof. She decided she would stay up there until Aoibheann fell asleep. Kinvara was angry. Her ears refused to hear her sister’s trite apology. One she knew that Aoibheann didn’t mean. Aoibheann needed to be liked and Kinvara didn’t care to appease her sister and fawn over her. And why should she have to? Aoibheann was easily liked by others, didn’t she have enough people to tell her how great she was? Why couldn’t Kinvara just be her sister? Why wasn’t Kinvara enough to her sister?

Kinvara wished Vidar would wake up and find her. She wiped another tear from her eye. She found herself begging for the human contact of a patient ear. The sky was not enough to contain her mind tonight and she needed someone to contain it too. She hated that feeling, but she couldn’t resist. Humanness was taking over, seeping into her mind. And she wanted her friend.

Chapter 25: Brighid’s Wedding

Year 803, Suifainn, Reign of High Chieftain Conn, Innis Aran

 

Saoirse stood behind her friend, pinning Brighid’s fire plume of hair into place. Many braids cascaded into woven textured at the crown of her head. What was left underneath cascaded down past her shoulders, skimming her waist. To her right, Brynhildr arranged wildflowers into Brighid’s bouquet. Ciannait, Chieftainness and dear friend of Saoirse and Brynhildr, stood in the background, watching the festivities. In Ciannait’s arms, a small little boy, Vidar of the MacManus, Brynhildr and Hrokr’s son. Meanwhile Aonghus, of Innis Aran and son of Murtagh and Ciannait peered on tip toe out to the sea below. 

Brighid wore a yellow dress, embroidered with little sea waves and spirals of protection. She and Carrick had only known each other for two months, after a rather long campaign at sea with Galway’s ships led by Brynhildr and Riagan. They had fallen in love. And with Saoirse on the trip to visit Ciannait, it was clandestine. Here Saoirse stood, ready to celebrate Brighid’s union in love. It was an odd time of year to do it. It was June, near the summer solstice, not the proper time of Bealtaine, several weeks past.

“Why can’t you wait until the next festival? It will be another month to Lughnasadh. Do it then! To have your clan with you. Brighid, this is madness.” Saoirse said.

Saoirse had a grand wedding feast five years, before during the Bealtaine festival. Chieftains from all over had come, including Murtagh and Ciannait. That was the first time she had met the Chieftain from Innis Aran.  Ciannait became Saoirse’s closest ally against the O’Connors, in Saoirse’s first years of marriage. Her replacement for the friendship she had lost with Brighid.

Brighid’s wedding was the first time Saoirse had spent a large chunk of time with Brighid since Saoirse had married Riagan, and abandoned the only world she knew. And this was only a week. Saoirse and Brighid grew up together, along with Brighid’s brother, Declan. The three had always planned to become members of Conn’s army.  To fight and explore, gain every glory they achieve. To walk in the shadow of the great Cuchulain. They had plans of adventure. But things changed, and Saoirse took a new path.  She didn’t have time for Brighid anymore, but Brighid carried on hoping it would go back someday. 

At high noon, Brighid, Saoirse, and Ciannait walked to the top of the fortress. With the background of the Atlantic Ocean, Murtagh performed the ritual. He fasted their hands together and offered blessings to the Gods to protect them. He made a Caim, pulling them all into the circle: Carrick, Brighid, Riagan, Ciannait, Saoirse, Hrokr and Brynhildr. Some new faces, friends of Ciannait, that were staying until their goods were traded, and would go follow another horde. They were Northmen, covered in strange tattoos and scars. Traders from Scandinavia, distant clansmen of Hrokr. They were strange and beautiful to Saoirse. She wanted to be like them. They were storied, before they even spoke a word. Under the lantern light of the small wedding feast, fueled by many glasses of poitin, the stories flowed.

“We’ve been fighting for Ragnar Lothbrook. To the east and now to the west, to avenge his father. He has conquered much of Northumbria and now he has his eyes on more. Maybe your island, next . We could set up a new kingdom called Dublin were you call Leinster?” One Scandinavian said with a great roar of a voice. He was covered in tattoos. His hair was reddish blonde. Long on top, shaved on the sides. He wore a bracelet on his wrist and had a long beard.  

“And Tara. Our Gods have made a mockery of the English gods. We will put yours to shame as well. Your holy hill could be in service of Odin.” Another Scandinavian laughed. Hrokr stifled a laugh for the sake of his new family. Brynhildr pretended not to hear. 

“The island is already dropping to the Christians, so I don’t think you will have to work too hard.” Brynhildr answered, “If you ever settle this island. The MacManus clan is a blend, working for neither Odin nor Danu.” getting the Scandinavians’s goat.

The more the Scandinavians bragged, the less Saoirse cared for Ciannait’s vikinger friends. Especially not how Riagan watched Ciannait with wonder again, sharing stories of her younger adventures with him. Ciannait was the only woman in his eyes tonight. 

The feast was beginning to be a bore. There was nothing for her at this table. Brighid was enamoured with Carrick, as she should be on her wedding night, Ciannait was engrossed in talking to Murtagh and the Scandinavians. She looked at her plate and pushed it away. She may not have the winding tattoos of the foreigners, nor the battle scars of the warriors around the table, but she had her form and her wit.  She would not drown her sorrows in food. She wanted to beautiful for Riagan. She nervously played with her hair and smoothed her dress. She was good enough right? She felt cold inside, from the little moments she saw between Riagan and Ciannait. A shiver ran through her veins, and she felt a crack travel into her heart. She couldn’t shake it. Riagan was not her Riagan. She began to see it, in that moment, at Murtagh’s table at Innis Aran.

The chill didn’t go away like she hoped. It stayed through many more courses.  It stayed while drunk dancing in the great hall with her friends and husband. And stayed, sending chills all over, as she was wrapped up in Riagan that night in their bed. She kissed him and felt nothing but fear. These lips were the lips that spent the night chatting up another woman. The brown eyes that looked back at her were the same that looked intoxicated all evening by the blonde foreign beauty of Ciannait. Saoirse closed her eyes and hoped it would go away. She wanted to be warm again.

The next morning, a late breakfast lay before the table. Groggy eyes and hungover heads hunched over plates of food. There were two more places from the night before. Saoirse rubbed her eyes and let the table come into focus again. Two plates still remained. She heard the ominous cackle that reminded her of home. She turned her head towards the sound. Tearlag’s dusty taupe hair rounded the corner. She was arm in arm with Ciannait, chatting away, like they were old friends. Tearlag had never been that affectionate to her, not once in her entire marriage to Riagan. Saoirse boiled and turned back to her plate. Conn sat down across from her, next to his son.

“Da, what are you doing here?” Riagan asked with annoyance, getting up to greet his mother.

“You know Tearlag, she couldn’t rest until she made sure that you two were capable of establishing an export agreement with Murtagh. So, here we are.” Conn replied. “And now she has found a new friend. What do you think of Innis Aran, Saoirse?”

“I don’t have an impression.” Saoirse groaned. “I didn’t think I’d have to share him this early.” Saoirse tucked into her porridge. “Riagan has found a new friend too. I’m afraid I’m going to be cast off for Chieftainness Ciannait.”

“Be careful, my dear. He is set for greatness and you are believed to be in the way.” Conn said. “I don’t want to see you get hurt, and I’ll deal with him as soon as breakfast is done, but I can’t say the same for her. Tearlag will not be stopped. An unfortunate lesson I learned after we had our children.”

Conn sipped his tea. He was balding quickly. His hair was slowly changing from dark brown to gray. His brawny form was beginning to retreat out of disuse. He led less battles on the field and more battles at home. Many days of hiding away in his library turned his skin pale. Saoirse felt sorry for the man who had extended her such welcome to their home. He was her rock to weather the storm of Tearlag and her dysfunctional sons.

Saoirse looked back to where Tearlag, Ciannait, and Riagan stood discussing something with muted tones. The cackling was at an end and a smug smile now adorned Tearlag’s face. She was plotting. Saoirse should have known that day what heartbreak lay ahead for her and Riagan. Ciannait and Tearlag would bring her foundation to rubble. There would be no steady ground. Tearlag not so delicately nudged Riagan to sit at the other end of the table with Ciannait and the three of them formed a small group that lasted far beyond breakfast. Tearlag kept her claws in them, suggesting a walk to see Ciannait’s boat, just the three of them.

“I have a growing fascination with boats. Galway and Limerick sure are falling behind in our technology.” Tearlag said. “You and Murtagh are ahead of all of us!”

“I thought the MacManus was being run by Hrokr of Jutland, Tearlag.  Surely his boats would be better than Ciannait’s?” Saoirse asked.

Tearlag looked at her, “Well, that’s what I intend to find out. You shan’t need to come, you’re of no need to me. You can’t even sail.” Tearlag stormed off, leading Ciannait away with Riagan. Saoirse would never forget the sneer Tearlag wore that day, a darkness pulled around her, the air even colder. Her mouth became a viper, her eyes burned into Saoirse. A new personality broke forth, unhinged from its tether. It was more frightening than being caught in the woods with a snarling wolf. You expected the wild animal to snap but you don’t expect a stately woman to. Saoirse ran from the stone wall entrance and puked on the side of the fort. She realized in that moment that Tearlag was not as she seemed. She would be served better to have a banshee as a mother-in-law. Death would be quick, but this would be a slow, painful process. The life would be sucked out, drop by drop. She puked again. Saoirse followed them.  She had to know what was going on. Saoirse followed them down to the boats, hiding behind a line of boulders that had fallen from the cliff face.

“Ciannait, as you can see, my son wants you and I see that you want him too. Now, instead of the cliche affairs I saw my father have, why not make this worth your while? Do you agree?” Tearlag asked Ciannait.

Riagan stood on the dock, while the two women spoke on the boat. He chewed at his fingers with his back to the boat. He looked nervous, unsettled. Saoirse looked away from him.  There was too much guilt written on his face, it made her head spin.

“I agree.” Ciannait said. “What will make this different from the affairs of our fathers? I too had an open-hearted father, his fame made him quite irresistible. I guess discovering a new part of the world will do that to men. I’m not really satisfied with my name in a Legend, I want power and influence now.” Ciannait touched the handle of the sword tucked into her belt. “It makes me feel alive. Ruling Innis Aran is just the beginning for me. The Gods told me I will own one of your kingdoms. I am certain I will make it happen, somehow.” She laughed but Tearlag did not.

“I know how you can without your sword.” Tearlag said.

“I am listening.” Ciannait said, “It’s surely too dangerous now with Aonghus.”

“Riagan is not happy in his marriage to Saoirse, she has been a disappointment, a failure. My foolish husband picked her, probably to take her as a mistress later after Riagan got bored. I’m sure she will take it for she is a simple creature. Not of our caliber.” Tearlag laughed. “I am taking control of the situation to save my kingdom. That little skank will not have a piece of Galway or Limerick . I won’t allow it. But you I would accept, with proper channels, of course. I need you to prove your loyalty to me by serving as a mercenary. You will be compensated, of course. You will serve with Riagan and you will make him fall in love with you. You will give him a son before Saoirse can. You will do your best to keep him here, away from Saoirse, and, in return, you will rule my kingdoms. You will have power and influence.” Tearlag said. Ciannait laughed. “You want me to have an affair with your married son? And take your word that you will not screw me over? No. I want gold up front. I also want Hrokr to be put into a place of ruling in Limerick for real, Tearlag. Brynhildr and Hrokr are the true rulers. They will be my insurance. You will also not screw me over or I will reign down hordes of my Icelander friends onto your kingdoms, until they fall, and you have nothing left. Are we clear?” Brynhildr asked, her hand on her sword again. “They personally helped Ivar the Boneless bring Leinster and Tara to rubble. I would surely love to watch Galway’s people dissolve into nothing again. I am not afraid of you nor your destiny from the Gods. You people are my pawns, and my people will come. It is only a matter of time. But, I can make them go easy on you. Do we have a deal?” Ciannait asked, extending her hand to Tearlag.

“Yes, yes we do.” Tearlag matched her hand. Saoirse, from behind her rocks, shook. Her place in Galway was under direct attack and she had to make an heir fast. And fast she did, much to Tearlag’s sneer. Saoirse did get sick all over the rocks. Every relationship was floating and one false move from sinking she believed. She was alone ever since that day. She had no one, and she had nothing. She crumbled. Her fire for life was snuffed. Her purpose, compromised. All in the sneer of Tearlag.

So many days since then, Saoirse had seen Tearlag make that face. Saoirse had watched her pull Riagan from her. It wouldn’t be over until she was dead. Saoirse wanted to do it with her own hands. She wanted to scalp her and nail her pelt to a wall. She wanted to watch that awful sneer leave her body, through the grip of her hands around Tearlag’s throat. What joy there would be when the Chieftainness of destruction breathed her last? Would Saoirse finally be free to be happy?

Saorise, in her most dark moments since the day Tearlag began to wedge her way between Riagan and Saoirse, wanted to end her. She saw it play over and over in her head.  She would kill her, and then she would be free. Saoirse would be allowed to exist. She would be validated. The dark moment would pass, and Saoirse would put down the knife.

Chapter 24: Searbh of the Lost

Day 363, Aodhain, Isle of Searbh (822 AD)

 

“Is she getting any better?” Carrick asked Brighid. He handed her a soaking garment and she began to scrub it with a brush.

“I don’t know, she’s not letting me come see her now. She takes all meals in the room, if she eats. Riagan is the only one let in. I’m scared she is getting worse but I don’t know, so I shouldn’t say.” Brighid answered.

“You’re only telling me.” Carrick said, frustrated.

“You’re right, I’m sorry. Fiachra has been hounding me with questions, they haven’t told him a thing since the breakdown.” Brighid said, “I feel like I’m always on the defensive around here.”

“Where are the girls? They should be helping you with this.” Carrick said. “They’re not pulling their weight around here.”

“Aoibheann and Kinvara are fetching water with the boys–” Brighid said, interrupted.

“Kinvara? She and Kinvara are spending time together?” Carrick asked with a snarky face.

“I know, the tide has changed finally. Aoibheann will not spend a moment away from those boys, she’s becoming obsessed! What do we do, Carrick? This is not why we brought them here.” Brighid reflected.

“She’s young and unwise, if it wasn’t with these boys, it would be with the farm boys back in Galway. Just like Kinvara was with her Eamon before we left,” Carrick said. “She’s lonely, she’ll get bored of them eventually.”

“Or will she? With Saoirse sick, the whole plan to get help in Innis Aran is up in the air. We’re going to run out of time. The plan was to escape, regroup and go back.” Brighid said.

“Indeed, not waste away here to take care of them. It’s been two weeks since Riagan did anything around here. Gathered peat or firewood, or fished. He hasn’t paid attention to his sons or nephew.” Carrick answered.

“Vidar needs to be returned to his parents, and so does Biorn.” Brighid interjected.

“I’m not going to go there with Riagan now.” Carrick said, “I don’t think he will listen to me. Saoirse needs healing, neither you nor I can help her the way she needs. Neither can Riagan.”

They washed in silence. Carrick dunked the clothes in the hot soapy water and Brighid scrubbed them until clean. Carrick hung them up outside on the line strung between the two towers of the fortress. He had never done washing before, what a tedious job it was. His hand felt raw from the hot water, what a terrible job to dump on one gender. He hung up the last garment and walked down the stairs to do it all over again.

“Do you think we should leave?” Brighid asked out of the blue later that day as she was helping Carrick carry firewood. They had wrangled the girls into cooking and the boys into gathering food to prepare. All that was left was the firewood. And they would get to repeat it all over again the next day. Washing, cleaning, water, fire, cooking. And again, and again. She was not a friend, she was becoming Saoirse’s maid. She did not train as a warrior in Conn’s army to become a maid for an exiled royal too stuck to move on with life.

“Leave? After fighting this far? You want to go back to Galway and surrender? We won’t go back to the farm, Brighid. We will go to the dungeon and our daughters will either be locked with us or left homeless, vulnerable to all kinds of evils lurking in the dark places of the human heart.” Carrick said, loading up his arms with dried stacks of peat. He gave Brighid the kindling against many protests. He knew she was strong but some days he needed to do things for her. Help unload some of her burdens, although they be small.

“We could go to Limerick, Brynhildr knows us better than Saoirse and Riagan do. She and Hrokr served alongside us, they could understand our position better.” Brighid said as they walked back to the fortress from the woods and through the fields. By the edge of the fields, they had a small shed to dry the wood and dry the chunks of peat out in the sun in the field.

“But Saoirse had been your oldest friend.  To leave her now, after she has been cut off from her family and rejected by the O’Connors, could crush her, Brighid.”  Carrick said.

“She’s already been crushed by Tearlag and her own husband. I want to leave to help them, to get someone else better to suited to help her. She’ll understand, because I’ve had to understand so many times before this. I had to understand at our wedding.” Brighid said.

“Oh Brighid, that was Tearlag’s doing.” Carrick said.

 

Chapter 23: Vidar and the Voice

Day 360, Aodhain, Isle of Searbh (822 AD)

 

Kinvara was walking behind Vidar, taking in his figure and making mental notes of the curves of his shoulders, his arms, the shape of his face, when he turned around to look at her. The bend of his nose, the gait of his walk, the length of his arms. His hair, a strange honey blonde that was dark near the nape of his neck. She was so lost in her mind, in the already present sketch in her head that she ran straight into his back when he stopped.

“Whoa, careful there. Where did you say you saw this faerie?” Vidar asked.

“Huh? Oh, yes,” Kinvara blushed out her mind with embarrassment. She was tense and anxious to find these creatures again. It had been two weeks and she could not make a reason for why they chose her.

“It was down here,” She moved past him. “Down by the rocks. It was a little creature with antlers. Decked out in moss and flowers. With this deep, raspy voice.”

“I’ve never heard of a faerie described like that.” Vidar said incredulously.

“Just listen and don’t judge, alright? I need someone to talk to and it’s not like Aoibheann would try. Biorn and Fiachra are the only people she can see, always wrapped up with one of them.” Kinvara whined.

“Sounds like you are jealous.” Vidar said.

“Why wouldn’t I be? I had a life back in Galway, I had a love that no one cared about ripped me from. In one day, my heart was broken and Aoibheann found two new loves. I’m viciously jealous, and bored. So, help me with this!” Kinvara demanded.

Vidar laughed. “I’ve never seen you so full of life before. You have a voice, use it more. You never let people see you.”

Kinvara scowled and ignored him, “The faerie stood over there and told me the Gods are angry and they need our help. And, saying it again, I feel mad. But it happened, Vidar! It happened and now I can’t get them to come back!”

“I think it could be possible, but why you?” Vidar said. “No offense, but you don’t do much. You aren’t a voice of this group. It sounds more like Biorn playing a trick on you.”

Kinvara sighed and walked out to the waves. She stood where the waves lapped her toes. “That’s what I’m afraid of.” Kinvara said. “Please, please don’t tell your cousins or my sister. If they’re making fun of me, I’d rather not give them the truth that I fell for it.”

“No, I won’t.” Vidar reassured her. “You actually fell for it?”

“Well, yeah. I’m dying for a purpose here. Aren’t you?” Kinvara asked and Vidar shrugged.

“I already have a purpose, I’m just waiting.” Vidar asked. “Did you have purpose back home?”

“Kind of, I was going to be a weaver. I was going to put all my drawings into the weavings on my family’s loom and become some famous artisan in the Kingdom.” Kinvara said. “But there aren’t famous artisans, so it’s silly.”

“No, it’s not.” Vidar smiled. “You should weave again. We should build you a loom.”

“Maybe.” Kinvara said.  Vidar’s eyes caught with hers and they stood looking at each other.  They moved closer and closer.

“Maybe we should stop staring at each other.” Kinvara said, still looking at him, moving closer.

“We could. I’m bored with my brother having all the fun. Sometimes you need a girl to think about.” Vidar moved closer and kissed her on the cheek. “It’s better than talking to a faerie.”

“So you do believe me?” Kinvara yelled.

“I don’t know. Waiting to see more.” Vidar said. “You should move on, see if they come back. Stay out of your shell like you are right now and let some people in again.  You are lovely when you let people see you, Kin.”

“That’s a weird nickname.” Kinvara laughed and looked at him again. “I want a new one.”

“Kiss me and I’ll give you another one.” Vidar teased, looking at her with mischief in his smile.

“No, just give me another!” Kinvara said.

“Just kiss me.” Vidar said. Kinvara smirked and leaned in to kiss him but instead she bit his lip softly. “Oh, come on, more than that.” Vidar laughed. He waited and she kissed him again, quickly and nervously. Eamon flashed through her mind again. She missed him and it tangled her up, even now kissing another guy in another world. She was trapped in the drug of first love and first lust.

“Vid and Vara.” A deep raspy voice echoed through the beach. Kinvara jumped and they were back. The voice was back, and it was menacing.

Kinvara broke off from Vidar and looked around towards the woods. Her eyes darted back and forth to the shadows. Where was the sound coming from?

“What are you doing?” Vidar asked but Kinvara waved him off.

“Is anyone there?” Kinvara asked to the woods.

“Vara.” The voice whispered in her ear.  She could feel it sitting on her shoulder. “Vara, we need you, not him. Get rid of him.” The voice growled.

Kinvara screamed.

Chapter 22: Limerick’s Fields

822 AD, Aodhain, Limerick of the Earl Hrokr MacManus (Day 359 of Exile)

 

A steady clop ripped through the fields, a horse was galloping at a ferocious pace through Limerick’s rolling countryside towards the fortress and the village. Curses and fists greeted them as the Viking and Irish farmers’ plants and bushes were ripped out by their aggressive paths. Brynhildr heard the commotion and ran out from the docks up to the fields, followed by her crew.

“What is going on?” Brynhildr yelled up to the clansmen watching from the roof of the fortress, their muddy boots hanging off the edge. All the clansmen tipped their hats in respect.

“Galway horses are back, destroying everything in their path.” A clansmen answered.

“Another of Tearlag’s reminders. Her power is endless I suppose.” Brynhildr groaned.

“Do you want me to shoot them for you, Chieftainness?” Another clansmen asked with a smile.

“No.” Brynhildr sighed, “Although it would make me very happy.” She climbed up the side of the fortress and sat with them, watching her land made a mockery by her selfish mother. Eventually, after many wrong turns by the fools, the horses and riders arrived at the fortress.

“Earl MacManus? I have a note for the Earl from Dowager Chieftainness Tearlag.” The idiot messenger yelled out in an annoying pitch of voice. He looked around like he was confused by his surroundings. Did Tearlag drug them before she sent them out or did they have excellent acting skills?

“Give it here.” Brynhildr said.

“Who are you?” The messenger demanded.

“The Earl MacManus, daughter of Tearlag and Conn.” Brynhildr shot back.

“I’m to give it Earl Hrokr MacManus.” The messenger argued.

“Give it to her or I’ll drown you and your horse in the river.” Another clansmen yelled out. “She is the Earl.” The clansmen hopped down off the wall and brandished their axes.

The messenger gave the note to Brynhildr and rode off. The other riders spit at Brynhildr’s feet and rode off behind the messenger.

“Can we shoot them now?” The clansmen asked again.

“No, sadly. The game is far longer than that. With these petty games, it is sure to be uncomfortable, whatever this letter holds. I will go find Hrokr.” Brynhildr answered. “But,if they don’t leave by sundown, set out the wolves. Give them a scare in the night.”

“Yes, Chieftainness.” The clansmen answered.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

“Are you serious? They hassled you about the note and then spit at you? What game is your mum playing?” Hrokr asked, irritated. It was late into the evening, Aisling was safely tucked in her bed. Brynhildr and Hrokr were determined to shield her from as much as possible. If only they had done the same for Vidar. Brynhildr felt the weight of failure every time she remembered how she let Tearlag control her and take her son. She pushed it back before her mind got distracted.

“A game to push Seamus through to heir and get rid of Riagan apparently. I had heard the rumors that Riagan was exiled, I didn’t think it could be true though.”

“Saoirse got through to him, finally. They can live away from your manipulating Mum for good.” Hrokr said. “Just like you.” He smiled.

“Ha, kind of. Except she came through today and tore up our fields in a big show of power.” Brynhildr groaned.

“Well, I will build you a wall. The biggest wall I can, so she can never do that again.” Hrokr answered. “I’ve had enough of her, and so has the clan. I’ve heard talk from the clan of rising up against her and removing her claim to this land.”

“It’s not a bad idea.” Brynhildr said, calming down.  She picked up her cup of tea and took a sip. They sat in the great hall looking out the windows on to the river.

“I think we need to go to this coronation.” Hrokr said. “Going back to the frozen fjords of Norway sounds better than spending an evening with your brother and mother, but we need to know where Vidar is. Whether he left with Riagan or is still there. It’s time to get him back.” Hrokr said, “I know she took a moment of weakness and extorted it, but you and I both did a horrible thing to our son by leaving him in her care. It’s time to bring him home, Brynhildr. Undo our wrong.” Hrokr said.

Brynhildr got up and kissed Hrokr goodnight. She walked up to bed. She tossed and turned all night and woke up the next morning in a ball of blankets. She rose late, Hrokr already gone. She hurried to dress and get down to the docks. She had a small trip out to the coast and she was desperately late. She ran to the boat and hopped on board just as the crew began to tie off.

“I thought you were staying here for the day, Chieftainness, we waited two hours.” A blonde female sailor said.

“No, Turid. Just overslept. Did you double check the bundles of wool this time? I will not tolerate another embarrassment like last time.” Brynhildr said.

“Yes, Chieftainness, three times.” Turid answered.

“Good. Now, let’s go.” Brynhildr grabbed an oar and led the paddle strokes. She put her rage into it. She had terrible dreams the night before. She would begin walking through Galway’s fortress and spears would shoot up from the floor. She would run and dodge them only to trip and be speared up to the ceiling. She would wake up after being pinned to the ceiling, bleeding out. She would drift off and dreams would start again. It was exhausting to live like this, frozen in fear and repressed anger. She had no time to be caught up in fear, but her mother was everywhere, even in her dreams. Tearlag gave her no peace.

She rowed at a furious pace and when she found complaint, she yelled more. Her crew scowled, but she didn’t care. She was a damned fool stuck in a puppet’s life. She would trade this shipment and find something new to do with her life. She was certainly never going back to Galway. Brynhildr would find a new way to locate Vidar. Hrokr would have to understand, like he always did. This would be done her way.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 21: Before the Tea Gets Cold

822 AD, Aodhain,  Galway of the O’Connor’s (Day 357 of Exile)

 

Seamus awoke to knocking at his door. He rolled over and put the pillow over his head, it was not time yet. “Go away.”

“Sir, the Dowager Chieftainness requests your presence at breakfast.” A servant whispered through the door.

Seamus groaned. He wrapped himself up in a blanket.  It was unseasonably cold this morning. He looked at the fireplace, gray and dead. He walked softly to the door, Roisin stirred.

“Go back to sleep, my love, you need to rest.” Seamus said. He turned back to the door and opened it slightly. “What do you want? We’ve had no sleep this night.”

“I know, Sir.  But the Dowager Chieftainness demands that you come to breakfast. She was insistent.” the servant said.

Seamus made a face and looked back at Roisin. “Both of you, Sir.” the servant said.

Seamus cussed. “Are you serious?” Seamus asked and the servant nodded.

“No, she was up with Luiseach all night. It will just be me. After I tend to this fire.  But tell my Mum it will be both of us. No need for you to catch her rage.” the servant nodded. “Go, now.” Seamus ordered.

Seamus shut the door and walked to the fireplace. He grabbed kindling from the basket and grabbed some flint and a knife. The fire struck and ripped, licking at the pieces of kindling. It swallowed the sticks up and he quickly added more. Once roaring, he quickly got dressed and checked on Luiseach. She laid in her little bed, wrapped in blankets, swaddled in a bright blue and gold blanket. They were the Galway colors. Her fate at her feet already. Seamus smiled and turned from his daughter to his wife.

“I must go to breakfast, but you stay here. I’ll have some food sent up if you would like?” Seamus said and kissed her on the forehead.

Roisin rubbed her blue eyes and pushed her dark curls out of her face. “No,” she yawned, “I’ll come down in a bit. Luiseach is bound to stir soon. She was so fussy last night, I was in tears.” Roisin said.

“I know, love, I was there beside you the whole time.” Seamus said. “I’ll see you later. Now sleep.” He left her, unhappy to leave.  His bed was the only place he wanted to be right now. But alas, duty called.

He hurried down the stone steps carved into the cliff side itself. Conn had always fancied strange architecture. He looked up at the portrait of his Da and Mum with his sister and brother. He felt a sharp pain in his head.  The pain of the loss, so few of those faces existed in his world now. He looked away and hurried into the large dining room with windows facing the sea. In the horizon, faintly on the line, he could see that small speck of an island. Where his brother sat, no doubt, miserable and wishing he had stayed and complied, like Seamus was doing now. What was so hard about following the rules and biding your time? Life was a chess match, wasn’t it? You wait, you plan, and then you strike. It was simple. You find other things to occupy your time, like he did as an adviser under his Da, sheltered from the wrath of his Mum for fifteen years. He grew his mind, so that one day he would know what to do and how to take them all down.

His siblings were so impatient, they ditched him for their own freedom and, for that, he knew that they were no longer useful to work with. They would choose their own paths, pick what best served them and let Seamus deal with the consequences of their failed plans. For being the youngest, he sure felt the weight of the eldest on his shoulders.

“Where is your wife?” Tearlag demanded, her eyes focused on him, scrutinizing his disheveled appearance.

“Good morning, Mum, sleep well?” Seamus said and sat down. “Where’s the tea?”

“It will be ready in a moment, with the rest of the food. Where is Roisin?” Tearlag demanded. Her graying brown hair was twisted up into a bun, a carved shell comb stuck out of the bundle of hair. Her green eyes were bright, she had barely aged, even as a widow. No stress shown on her face.

“She is sleeping. Luiseach kept us up through the night.” Seamus said.

“What are you doing wrong?” Tearlag asked.

Seamus sighed and relaxed as the food came through the door. He would eat and avoid all further questions. His Mum was being a crass wretch this morning.

“Well Mum, she’s a newborn, so she cries.” Seamus said.

“Give her to a wet nurse, someone should know what they are doing, or Luiseach will be ruined.” Tearlag moaned. “My perfect heir will not be ruined by inferior people.”

“Are you calling us inferior?” Seamus asked, livid with Tearlag.

“Yes, you heard me.” Tearlag said with confidence and condescension. “You have never had follow through.  Better give up now before you fail, because you cannot afford to fail this time. Your future depends on it.” Tearlag threatened.

Seamus ate in silence. Afterwards, he walked in silence to the great hall. He listened to the clansmen, the brehon, the fili and the priests discuss his coronation and his daughter’s ceremonial welcome to the clan, in silence. As the soon-to-be Chieftain, he still had little power. He was stuck under Tearlag’s thumb. But he would wait, and then he would strike. That’s what he always did. The opportune moment would come. Tearlag will be as weak as he was some day, and then she would have to listen to someone else. And it would be him.